Just relax. What is it about that well-intended advice—usually suggested when you're tearing your hair out—that makes you do just the opposite? "When you're constantly under stress, the body produces higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which is a natural steroid," says Martha H. Howard, M.D., medical director of Wellness Associates of Chicago. Frequently elevated levels of cortisol can cause weight gain, poor sleep, immune deficiencies. Your continued good health depends upon your ability to relax. Here are some easy techniques to help you get started.
We've all been there. Something or someone sets you off, tempers flare, arguing begins and nobody listens to the other side. Anger is stressful and usually unproductive. So the next time you're in a confrontation and feeling super-steamed, try a simple chill-out technique. Stop talking. Put your hand on your heart (if you’re in a situation where this would look silly, just do it in your mind) and breathe consciously and deeply. Conjure up a memory of something you appreciated. Now ask yourself, "What can I do to change this situation?" With a calm mind and peaceful approach, do what seems right. You'll most likely find that both of you will settle down and talk about what happened instead of hurling accusations.
Have you ever watched babies breathe? "That's full-body breathing, which is how we're supposed to breathe," says Bret Lyon, Ph.D., a San Francisco-based breathing therapist. "The abdomen pops out on the inhale and again at the end of the exhale. But most of us don't breathe that way." We also have a bad habit of holding our breath for seconds at a time, up to 100 times a day. Guilty? Try this: Take a 5-minute breathing break every day to relax and reconnect. Sit in a comfy chair. Close your eyes and take a few deep, conscious breaths, beginning with the exhale. For the next few minutes, it's the only thing you have to do. Simple, powerful and very healing.
If you've ever rubbed your head to ease a headache, you've practiced self-massage for pain relief. Self-massage may also help you relax. Try focusing on these three areas:
• Hands: To release stress and strain, rub your palms together in a circular motion. Lace your fingers together and knead the backs of your hands with your fingertips. Use your thumbs to knead your palms.
• Head: Move your hands from your chin to your cheeks, using a circular motion as though you're washing your face. Guide your fingers to your temples and rub gently. Move to the back of your head and start to massage, working your fingers upward to the top of your head.
• Feet: Find a comfortable chair and rest one foot on your knee. Rub the entire bottom of your foot, from heel to toe, in a circular motion. Repeat with the other foot.
When problems pile up, it's hard to relax. Sit up straight in a chair with your body relaxed. Keep your neck erect but loose, as if your head were being held from the ceiling by thin wires. Rest your hands lightly across your knees, palms up. Stare straight ahead at a neutral spot. In your mind—or out loud if you are alone—bring up the problems of the day and then dismiss each one with a positive statement. Example: "The bills aren't paid...It's OK. I'll pay them tomorrow." Don't think about the specifics. A quick answer is all you need for now, so your mind can rest.
If you can't sleep because of your chattering mind, practice this technique. Breathe slowly while you count softly out loud from 1 to 10 and back again, suggests Heidi Rotberg, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Charlotte, North Carolina. "It's hard to count and think at the same time," says Rotberg. Say "One," then inhale for three counts. Say "Relax" and breathe out for three counts. Repeat to 10, then back to 1 again. "Remember, you're not taking a deep breath. You're taking a normal breath that's slow and controlled," Rotberg says.